A Wolf of Her Own. A Two-Natured London Novel.
Kieran moved around the trees on silent feet, wolf to the core, even in human form. He had done this a hundred times and knew the drill by heart: make it difficult, but not too difficult. The cubs tracking him had to work for it, but they needed to succeed in the end. He loved this part of his duties as clan tracker, teaching the young.
The forest floor was scattered with old leaves from the previous autumn, now a wet mattress after a rainy spring. It would be silent to walk on, but would leave a good trace to follow too.
He couldn’t have that.
He looked up and saw a heavy branch of an old oak tree low enough to reach. He jumped up to hang on it by his hands. Swinging his tall body back and forth a couple of times to build momentum, he then let go, landing nicely several feet from where he had started. It would give the cubs something to ponder when his tracks and scent suddenly disappeared.
He leaned over to move detritus to cover a dent on the ground where he had landed. It wouldn’t fool an experienced tracker, but the cubs might not notice it. He looked around to plan his course and then moved in long leaps towards a dried-up puddle. He would leave a nice footprint there.
Fifteen minutes later, Kieran was at an old redbrick wall – high enough that one couldn’t see over it – that marked the western edge of the Greenwood clan estate. Their territory had long ago expanded beyond the wall, but it was farmland and woods that didn’t need to be enclosed.
He considered his options. He could hide from the cubs either up in the trees or on the wall. This early in the spring, the leaves not properly open yet, both options were equally good – or bad, if he really had wanted to remain hidden.
Making his decision, he climbed on the wall. It was wide on the top and therefore more comfortable to sit on than a tree branch. The morning sun was shining, warming up his spot. He had at least fifteen minutes to wait so he lay down on his back on the wall and closed his eyes.
Ah, this was life. He might spend the morning here. He had planned to work at home instead of commuting to London, but no one would know if he started late. He was his own boss.
The polite interruption didn’t sound comical, even though it was uttered by a nine-year-old. What it sounded like was smug. Kieran looked down at his nephew, Vincent, barely able to hide his amazement.
“How did you get here already?”
Vincent grinned with the width of his small face, showing a row of permanent teeth that were still a bit too large for him; he would grow into them. His dark orange hair was in disarray and his face was spattered with speckles and mud spots in equal proportions. His clothes hadn’t fared much better and rather looked like he had crawled in a ditch. The cub aura on his chest was jumping joyously, pleased by their success.
“I was here before you!”
Now that was impressive. “I didn’t smell you at all.”
Vincent rolled his eyes, like only a nine-year-old could. “Of course you didn’t. I’m not a baby anymore, you know. I rolled in the leaves and some mud and then hid downwind.”
“Very clever,” Kieran said dryly, though he was actually impressed with his nephew’s cunning. Aidan should be proud of his son. “But that doesn’t explain how you got here before me.”
“Well, Dad said you’d either head here or the big oak tree by the pond. After five minutes of tracking it was obvious you were coming here. So I cut ahead.”
Had he become that predictable? “So, in other words, you cheated.”
Vince looked offended. “No I didn’t. I utilised intelligence information to anticipate your move in order to prepare for the outcome.” He pronounced every word carefully, as if he had memorised the sentence.
Kieran burst laughing. “That you did. But you still cheated. The purpose of this exercise was to learn how to track.”
The boy looked pensive. “I guess.” Then his face cleared. “But I still won. Can I climb up there with you?”
“Sure.” Kieran knew better than to offer his help, and in no time at all Vince was up, sitting beside him on the wall, swinging his skinny legs back and forth.
Watching Vince, it felt like a return to his childhood, as he looked so much like his father at the same age. It had been their brother Colm watching over the pair of them then, fifty years older yet never acting like his baby brothers were a nuisance – which they had been. He had really loved children. Pity he’d never had a chance to have any of his own.
Old pain was pushed aside by the new generation. “Wow! I can see everywhere from here. Can I stand up?”
Kieran wanted to say no, but he had been climbing on this same wall at Vince’s age and had come to no harm. So he just nodded and watched in equal parts of admiration and worry as the boy got nimbly on his feet.
“I bet I could see to London from here,” Vince gushed.
“To Epsom, then.”
“That’s not gonna happen either.”
“Because it’s to the north from here and the wall is facing west.”
The boy accepted this good-naturedly and continued his study of the surrounding countryside. It took almost ten minutes before the first of those cubs who had actually tracked Kieran arrived. They looked amazed when they saw that Vince was already there.
“I won!” he declared to his friends.
“No you didn’t,” Kieran reminded him, and he sighed.
“Fine, but I’ll get the award for cleverness.”
Kieran grinned. “That you do. Okay, you all did very well. Off you go.”
“Aren’t you coming too?”
His nephew looked upset, but Kieran shook his head. “I’ll check the perimeter now that I’m here.” He wasn’t in the regular security rota, his architect firm keeping him busy enough, but he took the safety of his clan seriously.
“I’ll come with you,” Vince stated, but Kieran wouldn’t accept the offer.
“No, you’ll head to school.”
Vince made a face. “Yuck, school. I’d rather be here with you.”
“Nevertheless, school it is.” Kieran had fought his way through Eton at Vince’s age when the prestigious school had opened for the two-natured for the first time. He had been grateful for the chance to attend, even though it had meant facing prejudice he had been too young to comprehend. He was stronger for surviving it. Vince’s generation had things so much easier that he should have nothing to complain.
The boy looked like he would protest, but a frown sent him on his way with his friends. Kieran wouldn’t put it past his nephew to disobey and show up on his path later, but he would deal with it if and when it happened.
He got up and was about to drop down from the wall when movement caught his eye. A four-wheeler was driving fast over the closest field, heedless of the uneven ground, making the vehicle jump. Those things weren’t easy to control in the best of terrains, let alone on a pasture made treacherous by rain.
The vehicle made a beeline to a gate on that side of the wall, a seldom-used side access. It had to be one of their people driving it then; no one else would know about it. He dropped down from the wall and headed to the gate.
It wasn’t far and Kieran was a fast runner; he reached it first. The gate was locked, but it wasn’t manned. The key was in a strongbox in a nearby tree in case someone needed to use the gate. He fetched it and was staring through the wrought-iron bars as the ATV paused outside and cut the engine.
Not a clan member after all, but a strange woman.
Kieran couldn’t tell much more about her than that. Was she one or two-natured? He tried to get her scent but the wind was against him. Her clothes were loose-fitting, hiding her body; a scarf covered her hair, and her face – as well as her clothes – was a grey mask of mud, which made it difficult to sense anything about her. Had she been in an accident? Did she need help?
He was about to act on the thought when she spoke. “Well, don’t just stand there. Open the gate!”
The command made him draw himself straighter in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me, wolf. I need to see your alpha. Now!”
Only two-natured were able to see the translucent manifestations of shifters’ animal forms, but his aura wasn’t out. It wasn’t much of a leap to assume he was a wolf, however, so she could as easily be a human making an educated guess.
He rejected the notion immediately. A human wouldn’t know about this gate. It was in the middle of shifter and vampire territory, private land accessible only to their people. And since she wasn’t one of his clan, it had to mean she came from the Byrd farm.
Vampire or human, she was a stranger and he wasn’t about to give in to her command. He shook his head, firmly. “No.”
She was taken aback. “What do you mean, no?”
“Nobody marches in here – or drives – and demands to see our alpha. State your business and I’ll call him to see if he’s available.”
She frowned, annoyed that he wouldn’t simply obey. They could argue forever, but two-natured had more subtle means of communicating. He increased the impact he had on Might, the energy all two-natured were dependent on. He could not let her pass and the changes in Might would tell her that. Her gaze remained steady on him, his dominance having no visible effect on her, but she nodded.
“Fine. A pack of wolves has eaten three of my pregnant ewes. I demand justice and I will see that your alpha delivers it.”
Kieran stared at the woman for a few slow heartbeats as his mind struggled to comprehend her accusation. His hands squeezed the iron bars, physically trying to repel her words. But they couldn’t be unheard.
Not this again. His fury surfaced so fast that only the gate prevented him from acting on it. His wolf surged out and growled, and he let the sound escape his mouth. “That is bloody rich of you, woman, coming here to accuse our clan of such crime.” He knew all too well where false accusations would lead. “Greenwood clan has been here for centuries, and I can assure you we have never touched a single sheep. Ever!” He shouted the last word, but the woman didn’t even flinch.
“I know what I saw,” she said angrily. “There aren’t other wolves here. It had to be you.”
“And I say you’re wrong. You’re seeing things.”
She moved so fast he barely registered it. One moment she was on her vehicle and on the next she was at the gate, her face pressing in through the bars. “Are you calling me a liar?”
She was of average height, five-six, tops, but it didn’t stop her from trying to look down at him. Her natural scent was covered with mud, pig and horse, not an attractive combination. He resisted an urge to snort like a wolf to clear his sinuses against the olfactory onslaught. Mud concealed her features, but her eyes were clear, shining almost golden with anger. And there was no mistaking the sharp long fangs, very unlike wolfs’, she had bared at him.
“So, you are a vampire!” As if there had been any doubt.
She rolled her eyes, much like Vincent had earlier. “Give the man a gold medal for being FUDGING OBVIOUS!”
Her sarcasm broke the tension. “Fudging? What sort of a vampire says fudging?”
She shot him a superior look before retreating from the gate and withdrawing her fangs. “One that has been brought up to know better.”
“From the Byrd farm?”
She gave him a slow look in return, his question not meriting an answer. Kieran thought quickly. This wasn’t the first time sheep had been killed on the Byrd farm, and it hadn’t been wolves back then either. Yet it had led to his brother’s death.
Pain for Colm surfaced anew and he squeezed the bars to push it down. Vampires hadn’t killed him. Humans had. She had no reason to lie that he knew of, and nothing could be achieved by blatant denial.
“I had better take a look at it myself.” And if he found out she had been lying after all, he would show her exactly what kind of wolf she was dealing with.
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